By Recto Mercene, Business Mirror
Since 2013, the Marinduque Airport has been closed to operations, a victim of the political infighting between an entrenched dynasty and a local contractor, whom the dynasty had been fighting during the past few elections.
The rivalry has persisted until today, depriving the 240,000 inhabitants of the island access to air travel.
When the sea is rough, or when Signal No. 1 is raised over Marinduqe and nearby islands, the roll-on, roll-off (Roro) services are grounded for several days.
Even when the weather is pleasant, the Roro service between Dalahican Port in Lucena and Balanacan Port in Mogpog town takes three hours to travel the 51-kilometer distance between the ports.
And if the residents are from Gasan or Buenavista, they would take about four hours by Roro to reach Cawit Port, the last town of Boac before Gasan. This port is closed and is reportedly under construction.
This is not counting the close to four to six hours or traveling by bus or car for passengers originating in Metro Manila.
Estimates by those who braved the trip by land and sea said it takes between eight and 10 hours to reach Balanacan in Mogpog or Cawit Port from the bus terminal in Pasay City.
In contrast, a turbo-prop aircraft, like the ones flown by Zest Air, Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines (PAL), which take off at the Manila domestic terminal, would cover the distance in under one hour.
The Marinduque Airport is the only airport located on and serving the island-province of Marinduque. It is in Barangay Masiga in the town of Gasan, near the border with the provincial capital, Boac. It is part of the Mimaropa (Mindoro, Marinduque, Romblon, Palawan) region.
The airport is classified Class 2 principal (minor domestic) airport by the Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (Caap).
It remains a popular landing point for all commercial and private planes during the Moriones Festival observed during Lent.
Former congressman and now Gov. Carmencita Reyes, according to residents, has been grumbling that the airport should have been in Boac and not in Gasan.
Six years ago, National Unity Party Rep. Lord Allan Jay Q. Velasco of Marinduque, in coordination with the Department of Transportation and Communications (DOTC) and the Caap, undertook the concreting of the runway to the tune of P40 million.
Velasco was defeated in his bid for reelection in 2013 by Regina Ongsiako Reyes, daughter of the incumbent governor, but Velasco disputed Reyes’s victory, claiming that Reyes is a US citizen and ineligible to hold office.
Both the Supreme Court and the Commission on Elections upheld Velasco’s protest.
Despite this, former House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. maintained that a decision to remove Reyes from her seat is up to the House Electoral Tribunal, where Velasco’s case was pending at the time.
Velasco was later proclaimed the representative of Marinduque district and assumed office on February 1.
The Marinduque airport runway’s length is 1,400 meters, 500 meters of which need further rehabilitation and 700 meters need to be concreted. In 2009 budget for the construction of the taxiway and apron was approved by the DOTC, but the implementation was marred by bureaucratic delays. However, the Bids and Awards Committee resolution of award has finally been prepared, the CAAP said.
Velasco, who advocates the development of ecotourism in Marinduque, expressed confidence that the faster growth of tourist inflows into the island-province is assured upon the project’s completion. Concreting of the Marinduque Airport runway has been a DOTC priority project under the administration of former President Benigno S. Aquino III.
“It is hoped that with greater access to Marinduque through larger aircraft, the province’s tourism would take off, coinciding with the opening of the six-star Bellarocca Island Resort and Spa in 2008,” Velasco said in a statement.
“The demand for air transportation has inevitably increased and could only be satisfied by reopening the airport.”
Because of lack of tourists, Bellarocca Resort is losing heavily and there are talks that it might close shop soon.
The political rivalry, however, continues. Carmencita Reyes run again and won the governorship of the island.
One of the contractors who won the contract to concrete the runway is Melchor Go, one of Reyes’s political opponents.
Go was a three-term board member of the province’s First District. In 2016 he ran for governor against Carmencita Reyes and lost. Prior to that, in 2010, Go also ran against Reyes for governor and lost.
A resident of Boac, Go has a construction company that won in the bidding for the last part of the upgrading of the Marinduque Airport.
However, since 2013, Go could not proceed with the construction after Reyes reportedly refused to issue permit for Go’s employees to obtain sand and gravel from the nearby Libtangin River, a distance of about 1,000 to 2,000 meters from the project site.
A CAAP employee in Marinduque, Vilma Olivar, said the DOTC fund for Go’s project would revert back to the national coffer if the runway concreting is not finished before the end of this year.
The Caap washed its hands off the controversy, saying the project in now under the Department of Transportation (DOTr).
Raul Glorioso, chief of the Aerodrome Development and Management Service of Caap, said Go should address his appeal to the DOTr, and not to the Caap, if he wants the project to proceed.
PAL, Zest Air and Cebu Pacific are raring to fly to the island, but politics had intervened to make Marinduque remain a fourth-class province, the same classification since Carmencity Reyes took over the reins of the province in 1978.
Reyes was elected to the Interim Batasang Pambansa in 1978, when President Ferdinand E. Marcos created the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan party, to filter out the Liberals and Nacionalista members loyal to him. That marked the beginning of the Reyes dynasty.
At that time, her husband, Edmundo Reyes, was the immigration commissioner.
Today, the island-province residents hope that in the autumn of her life, Reyes, 90, would find it in her heart to approve the protracted contract in order that flights would resume and allow business to prosper and the island’s tourism sector to boom.
About the Author: Recto L. Mercene, graduate BS Journalism, Lyceum of the Philippines. First prize winner, News Photojournalism, by Confederation of Asean Journalists, Bangkok, Thailand; second prize winner, Art and Photojournalism Award; San Miguel Corporation. Former Air Traffic Controller and private pilot. Colombo scholarship grantee: Hurn College of Air Traffic Control, Bournemouth, United Kingdom.